There’s a comely young woman in a diaphanous dress reclining on a pedestal facing north on Broadway and West 106th Street, pensively looking at the ground. She’s always there! Unfortunately, she’s made of bronze. It’s part of the Ida and Isidor Straus Memorial.
Isidor Straus (1845-1912) was a German immigrant businessman, member of the House of Representatives, and prominent donor and philanthropist. After arriving in the USA in 1854 his family settled in Talbotton, Georgia, where his father Lazarus opened a crockery store and later allowed an entrepreneur named Rowland Hussey Macy to rent space in the basement. By 1896, Isidor and his brother Nathan (who is remembered by Straus Square on the Lower East Side) had gained full control of Macy’s after its founder’s death.
On April 15, 1912, Ida and Isidor Straus were traveling to the States on the steamship Titanic. After it struck the iceberg and the lifeboats were filling up, the Strauses were offered places, but neither would enter a lifeboat until all women and children were evacuated first. Ida gave her fur coat to her housekeeper Ellen Bird and ordered her into the lifeboat, and the Strauses perished when the ship sank.
The city commissioned this memorial to the Strauses in 1914, which consists of a granite fountain, a reclining female figure representing Memory and a marble bench inscribed with the words: “In memory of Ida and Isidor Straus, who were lost at sea in the Titanic disaster April 15, 1912. Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. — II Samuel, 1-23.”
The Memory image was sculpted by Augustus Lakeman, while the fountain and bench, known as an exedra, were by Evarts Tracy.
The plaque was set in the pavement in 1915 and mentions then-mayor John Purroy Mitchel, the youngest elected mayor of NYC to date. He is remembered by a gilded bust at 5th Avenue and East 91st Street at a Central Park entrance. He perished in 1918 during World War I — while on a training flight, he apparently forgot to fasten his seat belt and fell from his plane.